If you ever look at prepper websites, you’ll know that an EMP attack is their number one fear right now, and North Korea is the country most of them suspect will launch it. It’s fashionable to dismiss preppers as crazy conspiracy theorists, but most of them are normal people who’re worried about the future. So, is a North Korean EMP attack on the USA just a paranoid fantasy, or are the preppers right to be concerned?

The principle behind an EMP attack is simple. All nuclear explosions release a lot of electromagnetic energy – heat, light, X-rays, gamma rays are the ones we all know about, but the energy pulse covers pretty much the whole electromagnetic spectrum. Some of the frequencies in the pulse are capable of setting up an electric current in any wires, components or circuits they hit, and that’s what causes EMP damage.

From a normal nuclear explosion, the EMP effects can reach out a few miles, which means they’re mostly lost in the chaos of heat and blast, but a big airburst can wipe out electronics well beyond the range of any physical damage. That’s enough to make EMP a real nuisance in a nuclear scenario.

There’s a much more damaging EMP scenario, though, and it doesn’t involve starting a nuclear war. If you detonate a nuclear weapon high in the atmosphere – between 350 and 450 miles up, usually – there will be no physical effects on the ground, but the EM radiation will start a massive cascade of charged particles that descends through the atmosphere, spreading out to hundreds of miles wide and gaining intensity all the way down. That is the EMP threat the preppers are worried about, and it’s a real one – a handful of warheads could wipe out most of the USA’s infrastructure in a few seconds.

For the attacker, there are a couple of advantages to this. The weapon doesn’t need to be all that accurate – it can explode in circle dozens of miles across and still have the same effect. That means a crude rocket is all that’s needed. The detonation is far above the range of most missile defense systems, and it’s even above the legal limit of territorial airspace. That means an EMP attack on the USA can be carried out without ever violating US borders, which is an interesting problem of international law.

As for North Korea, are they capable of carrying out an EMP attack? Absolutely. They already have ballistic missiles that could be launched from a cargo ship accurately enough to achieve the right effect. There are also worries about two North Korean satellites, launched in 2012 and 2016. They’re supposed to be loaded with earth observation cameras, but they pass over the USA every 94 minutes, and they’re big enough to hold a large nuclear weapon.

So, the preppers aren’t being paranoid after all; North Korea really could launch a devastating EMP attack on the United States. Are they likely to? Probably not very – if they did it without provocation, it’s likely the USA would say to hell with international law and reply with a nuclear strike. It might be a useful deterrent, though – would POTUS really launch a pre-emptive strike on the Kim regime if that meant EMP satellites are taking out all the electronics in New York City (with Washington, D.C. inside the radius as a bonus) and Silicon Valley? I have my doubts.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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